Comparisons, they can be beneficial. They can provide something to aspire to, something to measure the success of project against. A way to come up with new ideas, and new aims based of the work or life of somebody else. Comparing and contrasting ideas in order to expand your mind, learning more and growing as a result.
However, in this day and age comparisons can become harmful. Such comparisons are false comparisons. Where it is all to easy to compare yourself to the facades people show to the outer world, instead of the seeing the full flesh and blood picture of their actual lives. Comparing yourself against the perfect images and lives of those next door, the celebrities shown on magazines in every corner store. Despite the fact that their lives are often editorialized to remove all imperfections.
This only gets amplified in the modern day and age. The age of social media, a rather new invention that most of the world is still learning how to live around. The dangers are amplified due to this, because nowadays you are not just comparing yourself to the Joneses next door. You are comparing yourself and trying to keep up with the millions of people online.
The Risks of False Comparisons.
False comparisons can cause great damage. To start with, while you try to grow and learn as a human being, comparing yourself to the millions online can make your goals and milestones impossibly far away. It can make improving and progressing in life feel hopeless as a result. No wonder, considering how perfect everyone lives look online. However this often provides an unrealistic and frankly impossible goal as the image of peoples lives online are often edited to make it seem perfect, even if they have they have their own flaws and weaknesses because they are still human regardless of that facade.
There is also a great risk of loosing your sense of self, in great part due to the selective presentation of life online. With the system of likes and shares, it makes it all to easy to preform to the crowd, to wear a mask in order to hide your natural human flaws as you do so. Over time, you can potentially become the mask even if underneath that there are aspects of your psyche that are neglected and wounded. Even if it means loosing touch with your passions and desires in order to better fit in and gain more favor and likes.
Another risk online is one of self objectification. Which appears more prevalent in women, but can also occur with men. To illustrate this there has been a study which points out that it only took 30 minutes daily on Instagram to change how women viewed their own bodies. Be it overly focusing on their flaws or as the study suggests objectifying themselves into believing their body exists for others to view. And this was stated to potentially lead to depression and various eating disorders in young women.
The increase in depressive symptoms and body image concerns is also something that has been observed in adolescents in respect to social media use. Potentially because of social media leading teenagers to engage in negative social comparisons, regarding their own accomplishments, abilities and appearance in a less positive light due to comparing it against the millions of people online. (Nesi 2020)
The world of social media can also make it much easier to become reliant on external validation. Especially in the form of likes or shares which can grant validation, and can make you feel good when you get them. However, becoming reliant on them can make you less resilient and more prone to change and alter yourself solely to become more popular with others.
Ways to Shield Yourself from the Dangers of False Comparisons.
So now I have outlined some of the dangers of false comparisons, especially in the age of social media. I thought I also ought to list some potential methods to help shield yourself from this. Ways to avoid the pitfalls of such false comparisons, and be able to use social media in a more healthy way as a result.
- Remember people often only show a mask online
It is always important to remember when you compare yourself to others online, that people often only show a mask or facade of their lives online. And it is no wonder why they do, given that having your personal flaws on display to the whole world would be quite unpleasant. But due to this, remember that people online are also not perfect, and have human flaws and imperfections like everybody else. No matter how perfect their lives look online.
- Find flesh and blood role models.
If you are in need of role models, it is better to find ones of the flesh and blood variety. The inspirational people who you know in real life, be it a professor, parent or friend with admirable qualities. In these cases you can actually have discussions with the person, and are more able to actually know what they are like as a real human being and make more realistic and healthy comparisons as a result.
- Have a break from social media
Having a break from social media is something I advise for everybody, even if it is just for a week or few days. Doing so helps break you from the loop that can form all to easily with excessive social media use, allowing you to gain some perspective in order to evaluate your relationship with it. It might be that some platforms are useful, but it may also be that certain platforms do not provide any actual benefit to your life.
- Compare yourself to the person you where yesterday
The best person to compare yourself, will always be the person you where yesterday. As long as every day you aim to be slightly better than the day before, overtime you will grow an incredible amount. It also provides a much more achievable benchmark in terms of short term goals. After all, even a small 1% improvement every day adds up to a huge improvement over the course of a month or a year.
So to conclude, it is worth being careful what you compare yourself against. Making sure that you are not accidentally comparing yourself against a hollow facade. Doing so will provide much more achievable goals, and prevent the feeling of helplessness that can so easily come with comparing yourself against a “perfect” person.
Jacqueline Nesi North Carolina Medical Journal March 2020, 81 (2) 116-121; DOI: https://doi.org/10.18043/ncm.81.2.116